Why Most Nonprofit Consultants Go Out Of Business (and How You Can Avoid It)
According to a 2016 study by Upwork and Freelancers Union, [editor’s note: the 2017 link went bad, so this is to the 2017 study] 63 percent of independent contractor workers (that we’ll call “consultants” or some call “freelancers”) got into the work because they wanted to. Nobody forced it on them. It was a proactive decision.
We can think of all the reasons why, from flexible lifestyle, to, especially for nonprofit workers, the chance to have better working conditions or more control of your schedule. You might even think you can make more money than at your former nonprofit.Regardless of why you started, how can you increase your chance of staying a consultant to nonprofits?
1. Market. A lot of consultants I meet do no marketing whatsoever, or so they think. “I get my business through referrals,” they’ll say. Well, yes, but what generates those referrals? Talks to local nonprofit associations, meeting fellow consultants over coffee, chamber of commerce mixers and much more. If they would recognize these as marketing and be more systematic about it, they’d get even more referrals, and could think about raising their rates.
2. Outsource. Let’s face it, you don’t love absolutely every aspect of what you do. For those parts that just drag you down, outsource. You may already do this with your bookkeeping and taxes. Think about taking this approach in your client work. For example, you know the value of special events, and you’re great at leveraging them and seeking sponsorships, but if you have to sit through yet another committee meeting about pink vs. white napkins, you’re gonna die. Don’t! Partner with the best events producer you can find and do the part you love, while they do what they love, too. And best of all? Your client gets the best of both of you.
3. Automate. Desk time, if it’s not dedicated to a client’s project, can cost you money. What can you automate so you spend less time on back-office duties and more time in front of, or working for, your clients? For a start, let’s hope you’re using a desktop accounting program, like QuickBooks or FreshBooks. Then there’s your database of clients, potential clients and contacts. Even if you don’t use a CRM, like Insightly or Zoho, look at an enhancement to your Google Contacts program, like Full Contact. How about a to-do list? Todoist is great, and works across platforms. Need to find documents at your office and on the road. Evernote or OneNote can be a lifesaver (it’s been for me).
You started as a consultant to nonprofits for all the right reasons. That was the easy part. The hard part is staying a consultant to nonprofits. Getting started on marketing, outsourcing and automating could keep you in the game.